Seek help from trusted sources
Confirming who has authority over the estate should be a top priority following the death of a family member.
Locating and understanding will and trust documents and confirming the individual(s) with authority over the estate should be a top priority following the death of a family member.
You should also consult with your attorney, tax advisor, and financial advisor to discuss the documents, deadlines, and procedures necessary to finalize your spouse’s financial matters. Depending on the complexity of his or her financial affairs, you may want to engage these professionals to help you through the coming months (or years). The tips below highlight only a few of the key action steps that may be necessary in settling the estate.
Gather important documents
Even if you’re not in charge of your spouse’s estate, you’ll probably have a role in helping the executor designated to settle his or her finances gather important personal documents (for example, prenuptial and child support agreements, real estate deeds, and beneficiary designations). Your loved one’s most recent tax return can help with identifying bank and brokerage accounts, properties, or other assets your spouse held.
Additionally, you and/or the executor should:
- Order 10 to 20 death certificates. The funeral home can help obtain the copies needed to file for insurance and benefits claims, transferring assets, and closing bank, credit card, and other accounts.
- Locate your spouse’s will, if there is one. The will names an executor, or personal representative, which can be an individual (such as family member or friend) or an institution (a bank, for example). The executor is responsible for either filing the will with the probate court or having an attorney do it, depending on state law. Check for any additional estate planning documents, such as trusts. The executor (and trustee if trusts have been executed) will want to review the documents with the estate planning attorney, who will guide them during the settlement process.
- Apply for a taxpayer ID number. The executor should apply for a taxpayer ID number for the estate using IRS Form SS-4. It should be used on tax returns, bank and brokerage accounts, and other documents filed concerning the estate.
- Notify Social Security if your spouse was receiving benefits. Your spouse’s benefits will stop, but it is important to determine if you are eligible for survivor benefits.
- Contact your spouse’s current or former employers for information on life insurance policies, health insurance coverage, union death benefits, and pension plan and retirement plan benefits.
Prioritize accounts requiring immediate attention
Taking direct action or working with the executor of the estate and your attorney can help ensure the proper handling of brokerage and other financial accounts. Additionally, it is important to monitor the deceased’s deposit and credit card accounts—in particular, look for automatic charges that you will need to stop. The executor and attorney can guide you in determining which financial obligations take priority.
Remember, you are not alone throughout this process. Working with knowledgeable advisors and trusted individuals can help you navigate this difficult and stressful time.
- Reach out to trusted individuals and professionals to help you finalize your spouse’s financial matters.
- Ask your legal, tax, and financial advisors for informational resources to guide you through the process.
- Begin to gather the required documents needed to finalize your spouse’s estate.
Wells Fargo Advisors does not provide legal or tax advice. Any estate plan should be reviewed by an attorney who specializes in estate planning and is licensed to practice law in your state.